The Connections Between Mark Bouris & James Kennedy

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Mark Bouris, executive chairman of wealth management company Yellow Brick Road and host of Celebrity Apprentice, mentors James Kennedy, the managing director and CEO of luxury goods retailer Emerald Group Investments.

What makes it work?

Business experience meets youth and ambition.

The collaborators

Mark: “I knew James’s parents quite well – his late father, Louis, was iconic in Sydney’s Double Bay [for his business, LK Jewellery]. All I knew was that Louis and Martha had a son who was being groomed to one day take over the business – I met James only two years ago. I’m always interested in young people who come from a heritage of entrepreneurship. James talked to me about his plans, some of which I thought were very ambitious. He had energy, he was smart and he had a lot of perspective. Normally, you don’t get that out of a kid who’s been handed the reins.

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He was a bit cocky – he still is – but I think that comes from backing yourself. James is very well grounded. The family’s established relationships in the jewellery industry have helped him but they amount to naught if you don’t have what it takes to turn them into something.

These days, James comes to see me to talk about the business. I think he’s practising on me what he’s already researched, to see if I can find chinks. I’ve always taken the view that mentoring means I ask the questions as opposed to giving the answers. 

James has an understanding of what luxury items mean to the consumer and he knows the market. He doesn’t fit the typical [private school] mould. He may have lived that life when he was a kid but he works hard, sacrifices a lot and isn’t entitled. 

I get asked to be a mentor all the time and 99 times out of 100, I say no. But I’m curious about what James is doing. I don’t know if he does it instinctively or consciously but he manages to maintain my interest. He’s a very polite young man, engaging and a cool kid. That all helps; if he was a pain in the arse, I wouldn’t be talking to him. 

He has a massive work ethic – obsessed in some respects. I think he maintains a healthy level of paranoia, which everybody needs in business. He’s not shy to have a crack at something but he represents a more modern entrepreneur who does the work first then makes an assessment and then takes the risk.

He’s a young man I’d like to see become successful because he has all the attributes that will get him there and he’s really putting in. I’m curious to know where he ends up.”

James: “When I took over the family business in 2009, I was 29 and considered an arrogant little upstart. But what came across as arrogance was really just fear. You’re thrust into this world of managing directors, CEOs and business owners; you’re trying to negotiate deals that are best for the business and your family and that was difficult. 

When I met Mark in Sydney about two years ago, he was exactly as I expected: a very respectful guy who has gravitas and is really interesting. Mark did legal work for my late father back in the early ’80s and bought his wife’s engagement ring from my mum and dad. We got on very quickly.

There aren’t many people doing what I do at my age who I can talk to. Mark took a liking to me and understood what I was trying to achieve. I can now pick up the phone and run an idea past him. With his extra 25 years of running a company, that’s invaluable to me.

He’s a knock-around guy who’s not caught up in his wealth or business success or being on TV. He’s honest, smart and an incredible businessman who understands what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

Being CEO is the loneliest job in the company. You can’t have the social interaction that most people have in the workplace. You’re held to a higher standard. But we’re all human beings; we have bad days and we get happy, sad, angry and frustrated. We’re not robots.

When I’m thinking about a business decision or a change of structure or strategy, I call Mark to make sure that I’m detaching myself emotionally and thinking logically. He’s given me sound advice on many occasions. A mate can tell you to pull your head in or suck it up and give it to you straight – that’s something I respect in Mark. He’s not going to sugar-coat it, because he has my best interests at heart. There’s no other agenda.

Four years ago, I was working in a windowless 12-square-metre office with one other person. I had four employees and two stores. We should see out the end of this year with close to 20 stores, 200 employees and an incredible office in Collins Street, Melbourne. Business, to me, is like sport and I want to be world No. 1.” 

Image credit: Julie Adams

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